She was studying engineering when Taapsee Pannu made a decision that changed the course of her life. “I decided to live my life, and not just survive. I decided to do what my heart and mind told me, without bothering about what people would say,” says the actor who, growing up in ’90s Delhi, watched her father follow the same routine his whole life. “My dad wakes up at the same time, gets ready in the same way and has travelled the same road every day for the last 35 years.”
A stable profession with a steady paycheck was within her grasp too: She was placed with IT major Infosys on campus. But the thought of living a monotonous life scared her. “I saw my mum, and everything in her life before marriage was dictated by her father, while everything post marriage was dictated by her husband.”
Serendipity and purpose brought her to showbiz, and Taapsee’s debut Tamil film Aadukalam went on to win six National Awards. A prolific and successful phase ensued, making her one of Bollywood’s most exciting young talents and a frank and forthright voice in Indian pop culture.
Boredom? That’s not a problem at all.
Would it be fair to call you fierce and outspoken?
If it’s about living fearlessly, then yes I’m fierce. I’ve learnt to speak my mind, without hurting anyone.
Is it liberating to not wear a mask?
Absolutely. I don’t have to remember any false stories or personalities I’ve cooked up for any one when I bump into them again two years later. It’s why I’m very relaxed and free.
Would you recommend it to others?
I highly recommend it because no matter how hard you try putting on a mask, it can only survive up to a certain limit. Beyond that, you’ll either kill yourself or someone else. For the betterment of mankind, just relax and be yourself; that’s the best version of yourself and nobody else can be that. If you’re looking for validation from people who don’t approve of the real you… those people anyway will not approve of you. So stop pleasing others and please yourself first.
Women in all walks of life are still afraid to speak up because they don’t want to be thought of as pushy. Do you ever worry about rubbing anyone the wrong way?
I fear disrespecting people. I don’t fear saying things I believe in. Whether it’s rejecting a script or saying a certain event doesn’t work for me, my only fear is disrespecting someone and I make sure I don’t do that.
From your first film, you’ve shown confidence. What fuels it?
It’s [because of] confidence that I’m not here because of one particular person. Of course, I’m thankful to whoever gave me opportunities, but to make the best use of those opportunities, I give credit to myself. That gives me the confidence today that if I lose the support of one person, it’s not like my career will come crumbling down. Also, I’m not insecure about having to make it in this industry—I think I’d be pretty good at doing a lot of other things. That confidence I have because of my upbringing and my education. I’m pretty street smart that way.
You mentioned keeping it real, but the bigger a celebrity you become, the harder it gets to remain connected to the true realities of life.
For me, pack up means pack up. I come back home to a normal life. I don’t really have strong connections to the people in the film industry and have deliberately kept it that way. This has also cost me a few films that I could have been a part of. But that’s okay because it helps me stay level-headed.